Journeys into the past


My grandmother seemed to decide that I was to be the family archivist in the 1970s. She gave me a large number of photographs, letters from the First World War front that two of my great-great uncles fought in and letters from a relative in the USA to my great grandmother. Her father came from Ireland. A cousin had done some work on part of the family tree and this was passed onto me. Over the years I filled in many of the gaps and with the help of relatives, and the ever-increasing availability of information on the internet, now have got back as far as 1588 with the exception of the Irish relatives. James is from Northern Ireland so on a recent trip to visit his family we decided to delve further into his family tree as we had relatively little information. The major problem with Irish records is that so many public records were destroyed in the 1916 Easter Uprising. Volunteers have been digitising church register information and other information is already online. Our first step was talking to relatives, finding out if there was a family bible which often had names and dates of birth of all family members (there was not one) and then visiting the various graveyards where we were told some ancestors were buried.

In total we visited four and on the next rainy day I will start to plot out the tree and double-check what we have.

Mountstewart is an estate that used to be the home of the Marquess of Londonderry but is now under the care of the National Trust. We had been there previously so had a quick look at the house and devoted the rest of our time to the garden. Our last visit was late summer so this time it was good to see tulips and Tree Peonies blooming.


A range of animal sculptures sit along the top of the garden wall. This pig is one of them.

Across the road there are views across Strangford Lough.

On our last day we decided to pay a visit to Derry, a city neither of us had visited previously. The 400-year-old city walls stand up to eight metres high and are almost one mile around, making them the most complete city walls in Ireland.

The station is across the Foyle river from the walled city but there is a free bus link to the bus station which is near the shopping centre. We began our walk on the walls at New Gate which is near a bastion containing cannons.

Ferryquay Gate is one of the original four gates and led down to a ferry which used to cross the river. The Guildhall is nearby.

St Columbs Cathedral was built in 1633, one of the first after the Reformation and the oldest building in the city.

St. Augustine’s Church is known as ‘The Wee Church’ and was built on the site of an abbey which St Columba constructed around 543AD before sailing over to Iona in 563AD. It has been rebuilt a number of times until the last in 1872.

There are views all around: over to the Bogside

…and to St Eugene’s Cathedral

We spotted a bookshop near the Craft Village.

Foyle Books is run by a retired French teacher. It has a huge selection of Irish books and others. I picked up one on ‘Difficult to Translate Words and Phrases’ and had a chat with him about this. I had noted that French does not have a word for ‘iceberg’ and we agreed that had they remained in Canada for longer, they might have had one. He also told me that Irish Gaelic has no swear words and so use English ones. My other find was a Hungarian phrasebook which I have been looking for for a couple of months in preparation for our trip to Budapest alter this year. So far in both new and second-hand stores I had had no success. However, this shop had three different ones. I also spotted a book produced by another small society; there seem to be so many devoted to what appear to be minor interests. I had previously come across the Pylon Appreciation Society, but this was a book on British Piers published by The Piers Society which I had not heard of before. Along the wall outside the Millennium Forum is an Anthony Gormley sculpture. There were originally three but the others have ended up overseas.

To return to the station we crossed the Peace Bridge which was opened in 2011.

There is then a footpath/cycle route back to the station although some work was being done on part of it. We could have spent much more time here – there are several museums and plenty of culture. That will have to wait for another trip.

Trying out the new wheels: Rufford and Martin Mere


Having collected our new campervan last month we were keen to try it out before heading off on our exploration of the British Coast. We decided to go for one night fairly locally to visit somewhere we had not been to before and to revisit an old favourite. Rufford Old Hall is situated in Lancashire, not the part I walked through earlier in the year, but west of the M6. It is now owned by the National Trust having been built in 1530 and owned by the Hesketh family until 1936.

Later wings were added in the 17th and early 19th centuries. We were there not long after it opened and on a week-day, it was quiet. So much so that the room guides jumped on us as soon as we entered a room and were keen to talk whereas I was happy to look around in peace. They had a number of items of furniture, ornaments and paintings etc which had belonged to the family and had been returned to the house. They also had a collection of antique maps of Lancashire including some by John Speed and Robert Morden. Photography inside is only permitted in the Great Hall which has a fabulous carved roof visible from a window in the first floor drawing-room.

Outside there is the garden and woodland to explore. Volunteers were tidying up after the recent gales and torrential rain. Celandines and violets were in flower and bluebell leaves emerging in the woodland so there should be a good display in a few weeks time. We were very thankful that the weather had improved and the nearby Rufford Branch of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal was so still that the trees were reflected in it.

There is a cafe and a few shelves of pre-loved books but nothing I fancied. We spent the night in a nearby Britstop. This is a network of pubs and other places which once you have joined by buying the current year’s catalogue, allow you to park up for the night for free. We stopped at the Farmer’s Arms in Bispham and after enjoying a meal in the pub, settled down on a very misty and wet evening. The following day, the 20th March is the Spring Equinox and a super moon is supposed to be visible but the cloud made this look unpromising. The next morning was a pleasant surprise with clearing cloud and sun. Our destination was Martin Mere which is run by the Wildlife and Wetland Trust. We last visited several years ago in winter as many migrating birds stop off or stay here including 2000 Whooper Swans from Iceland. At this time of year they have all returned north. It is divided into two parts, one devoted to the nature reserve and the other houses endangered birds from around the world. In the nature reserve were many familiar birds including Mallard

a Black-Headed Gull

and a Shelduck Diving.

There were other geese, ducks and waterfowl in the distance. Some people had recently heard a bittern in the reeds. The last time we heard one was in 2003 on Barra but heard nothing today. There were so many other birds in the other half:
A red-Crowned Crane

An Avocet

Spring had indeed sprung as we had our first coffee sitting outside this year before heading home on a relatively quiet motorway for once.

A few days in Paris


St Pancras International is a very civilised station and I wish others were like it. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy it to the full as I became unwell and wondered if I was going to be able to make the trip. However, I managed to get things under control as we boarded the Eurostar and in just over two hours were at the Gare du Nord in Paris. The station has had a problem with expensive unlicensed preying on passengers, but we found it easy to follow the signs to the licensed taxi rank. Soon we were at our hotel where I rested and recovered. This is at least our fourth trip to Paris, so we have seen most of the sights and were happy to just wander. We are close to the Arc de Triomphe

so then walked down the Champs Elysee which has only two closed shops but lots of temporary fencing piled up from the recent Maillot Jeune demonstrations. We did see a few demonstrators a couple of days later near the Arc. The American Embassy was well-guarded.I went to Fauchon on the Place de Madeleine to do some shopping and passed by Le Village Royale, a small upmarket shopping and restaurant court off the Rue Royale which was today decorated with umbrellas

and displaying bronze sculptures by Dirk de Keyzer, a Belgian artist and sculptor.



Le Village hosts regular sculpture exhibitions. Returning along the riverside, statues were glowing in the sunshine and there were views over to the Eiffel Tower.


In the afternoon we walked to the nearest green space, Parc Monceau; which was busy with workers enjoying their lunch in the sunshine. The main gates are huge wrought iron and gold and the park is decorated with statues, ponds with a bridge and various old constructions, none of which are labelled. There are also playgrounds for children. Nearer our hotel was a street market:

And the Église de St Ferdinand

We met up with our friends late afternoon and enjoyed a meal in a nearby Corsican restaurant. Saturday was match day so after a morning walk under blue skies enjoying the buildings it was time to join the crowds on the Metro to the Stade de France in St Denis for the Scotland-France rugby match.

Scotland, probably predictably, lost. Waiting for the crowds to diminish we stopped for a glass of wine at a co-operative in the centre of town. It sold products made by local artists and craftspeople but today the café was holding a special afternoon celebrating a children’s book author and illustrator with some wine. The artist had designed the wine labels.

On Sunday we visited the Musée du Quai Branly which has a fantastic collection of art and culture from Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Our Eurostar tickets gave us 2 for 1 tickets and we spent a few hours inside.



Outside there are gardens with grasses and magnolia trees in bud. Walking back along the riverside in this unseasonable weather, we spotted some hammocks by the Seine.

All too soon it was time to return home.

We had seen plenty of armed police around the city but at the Gare du Nord the army were on duty. On the Eurostar I read that the first Café á Chien has opened in the Marais district. That will have to be on the list for another visit. I finished reading Adam Gopnik’s Paris and the Moon which has been sitting on my bookshelf since I found a copy in Washington DC in 2004. This trip was a good chance to revisit the New Yorker writer’s account of moving from New York to Paris in 1995 where he worked for five years and began to raise his family, observing the differences between the two cultures. It was interesting having made numerous visits to both France and the USA.

The new wheels


Before collecting our new wheels, we spent 10 days in Edinburgh. There were 2 Six Nations rugby matches on consecutive weekends which we attended with friends. The first one took place while there was still some snow on the Pentland Hills.

We met up with several friends and did some trip planning. One other thing I did manage to squeeze in was a trip to the City Art Gallery which had a couple of photographic exhibitions I had wanted to see for a while. The first was Robert Blomfield’s Street Photography which continues until 17 March 2019. He was a doctor but managed to pursue street photography from the 1950s to the 70s. It was only brought to an end when he suffered from a stroke in 1999. His son spent a lot of time sorting out the huge amount of film his father had at home.

The other photographic exhibition was ‘Scotland in Focus’ which included the galleries collection of Scottish photographs from the mid 19th century to the present day.

The final exhibition we saw was ‘Another Country’ which explored contemporary immigration to Scotland, including themes of integration, nationality and identity.
It included work by eleven leading artists from distinct ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, all born or currently living in Scotland and using different media.

As photography is not allowed in the galleries, the images are from the gallery website. The exhibitions are free, and the gallery is very central and close to Waverley Station. The adjoining café provided an opportunity to top up the caffeine levels.
On our last morning we were up early to take the train to Leuchars and then a taxi to Anstruther where our vehicle, a van converted to camper was made. We then drove home and for once there were no major motorway problems. The seemingly eternal SMART motorway works on our nearest stretch of the M6 and are due to be completed soon. At last we could see some parts completed since the last time we drove back in early January. At the moments we are kitting out the van and will probably have a trial run in March before starting to tour the coast of Britain. This will be done in stages, fitting around other commitments but we will set off at the beginning of April, starting in Fife and travelling anti-clockwise.

A day in Dundee


The day before we left for Dundee, Edinburgh and the autumn leaves were bathed in sunshine. While we were in Australia the UK seems to have had a fairly mild autumn.

However, this was not to last and by the time our train pulled into Dundee Station, the sky was overcast and the wind was getting up. We had been meaning to re-visit the city for some time, especially since the V&A opened a museum there in September 2018 and James is always keen to come back to the place he was at university in. The new V&A is right on the waterfront in a stunning building. It was designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates from Japan who are also designing the stadium in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.



The collection is devoted to Scottish design in many different areas. The main collection is free to visit and there are additional exhibitions for which a ticket has to be purchased. The current one is on ocean liners. There was so much to see and one thing I enjoyed was The Oak Room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Miss Catherine Cranston who owned tea rooms in Glasgow.

Next to the V&A is Discovery Point; a museum devoted to Antarctic research and the ship Discovery. Dundee had for some time engaged in whaling and so had expertise in constructing ships that could withstand Arctic ice, making it an obvious place to build the first ship constructed for scientific research in the Antarctic. The Discovery had sails but also an auxiliary coal-fired steam engine. There are displays on the construction of the ship which used several different kinds of wood, those who sailed in her, the work they did and the restoration of the Discovery. After looking at the displays in the museum (and trying some of the interactive things if you are brave enough) the ship can be explored, above and below deck.

When we visited some workers were repairing the decking with what looked like traditional methods.

Back in town, penguins are popping up everywhere as part of the Christmas Decorations. Those outside Discovery Point and these in the city centre are present all year.

Another Scottish export was comics. DC Thomson have been publishing newspapers and comics since 1905. Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx from the Beano are also in the city centre.

Had the weather been better there are riverside walks, boat trips, the Botanic Gardens or a climb up the Law for the view but they will have to wait for another trip. Down in the waiting room at the station there was a wall display:

While living in Dundee, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein

The first ever wireless broadcast took place in Dundee

In 2016 Dundee hosted the UK’s biggest independent video games festival

Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland. This raised a smile as it was pouring with rain and very windy outside with reports of snow on high ground. Despite Scotrail glitches: announcing a delayed train when it had just departed and telling us as we approached Haymarket that the next stop was Leuchars, we made it back to Edinburgh on time.

Around Australia: reacquainting myself with Melbourne


When I was in Melbourne in 2004 I was living out of town or in one of the suburbs north of the river and working at a university campus in the west of the city. On this visit, I decided to stay in the centre. We spent our first day just wandering around. Very close to our hotel was a Pop-Up Bookshop selling off their stock. The Department stores are all full of dresses and hats for the Melbourne Cup and racing season. Christmas puddings, mince pies and Christmas cards are appearing, and a fake reindeer was being carried over to Federation Square. Up the hill, Flagstaff Gardens is one of the oldest gardens in the city. I had noticed there and at other places, trees are wrapped in metal around the trunk. This may be to prevent non-native creatures climbing up and attacking native wildlife. Some people there were having a morning Tai Chi session. Down the hill a little, near the courthouse we saw a long queue of lawyers in their robes and others waiting to get in. We have always thought our courts have short hours (10-4 usually) but this was 10.25 and the queue was not moving quickly. Back on Flinders Street, Hosier Street is well-known for street art.

but there are numerous other examples around the city. At the Birrarung Marr by the river there are a number of sculptures including this one entitled ‘Angel’ by Deborah Halpern in 1988.

There were a few birds on the river, mainly ducks and gulls but this Little Pied Cormorant, one of Australia’s most common water birds, was sitting on the bank.

The National Gallery of Victoria has a good selection of work by local artists up to the present day. There was a large exhibition entitle ‘Polyverse’ by LA-based and Melbourne-born artist Polly Borland who works in Cibachrome photography and tapestry.

In the 19th and 20th century gallery I particularly liked this almost impressionistic landscape by Sidney Long in 1905

and this painting Echuca Landscape by Fred Williams in 1962.

We had dinner with some friends in the evening. The following morning, we walked up Elizabeth Street to the Queen Victoria Market. It is the largest in the southern hemisphere and you can certainly get most of the food you would need here as well as many other things. Near our hotel on Flinders Street is the remains of an old bookshop which has certainly been liberated.

Fortunately, on the opposite side of the street is City Basement Books which is a great place for good quality secondhand books. The afternoon was spent on a two-hour cruise along the Yarra River. The first hour’s journey was under some of the low bridges in the city centre that can only be sailed under at low tide and out to the port.


After a lot of driving it was very relaxing to have someone else doing the driving and navigation while we just relaxed and watched the city float by. A lot of new buildings have been constructed along the harbourside since I was last here and Federation Square looks quite different.

The second hour is spent going in the opposite direction upstream, past the stadia, botanic gardens and up as far as Herring Island.

On our return to the berth near Federation Square, dozens of rowers and canoeists were on the river making it very tricky for our skipper to turn around and get into position at the berth.

After sunset the city centre looks good at night.

This is Flinders Station:

I particularly liked the poster on the front of St Patrick’s Cathedral ‘Let us Fully Welcome Refugees’.

Tomorrow we must leave and complete the last few days of our journey.

Around Australia: Walpole to Esperance


The first thing we did after leaving Walpole was to drive the few miles east to the Valley of Giants Treetop Walk in Nornalup National Park. The huge Red Tingle Trees (Eucalyptus jacksonii) grow up to 75m tall and 20m in girth. The karri trees seen elsewhere in WA (Eucalyptus diversicolor) can grow up to 90m. These tall trees have been used as lookout posts for forest fires.


The walkway gets up to 40m off the ground and gives great views of the canopy. We saw several birds (including this Australian Ringneck)

but no quokkas which also live on the trees and use the sword grass on the ground to give them cover from predators. When people walk fast on the walkway, it tends to sway a little making photography a bit of a challenge. I was thankful for the image stabilisers on my lenses. There is also a brief glimpse to the landscape outside the park.

We also walked along the ground level Ancient Empire boardwalk. This is free, but you have to pay to go on the Treetop walk. A section of the Bibbelmum Track passes through the valley. It is 1000km and runs from near Perth to Albany. We saw one hiker near the Visitors’ Centre. All too soon it was time to carry on as our destination for the night was Esperance, 374 miles from Walpole. Vineyards are called wineries here but near Denmark, the next town on the South Coast Highway; I saw signs to a meadery and a cidery. Albany was settled before Perth and is the oldest (dating from 1826) and the largest town on this section of the coast. Initially, the British settlers were welcomed by the indigenous people there because they stopped the rape and murder being carried out by whalers and sealers. Unfortunately the Brits then stopped indigenous people coming into their shops and began to remove their children from them. Coming into town, we passed the world’s largest sandalwood oil factory. It has some 19th century buildings in the town centre and I had no problem finding a café to top up my caffeine levels. Down by the shore is a replica ship of the Amity Brig that brought the first settlers here from Sydney.

We had by now left the big trees behind us and the landscape switched between farmland and bush. There were a few more forests but they were for commercial timber. We did not have a kangaroo cross the road in front of us today, but we did have to swerve around one lizard and had the first emu crossing of the trip. As we drove east the landscape got drier and the rivers had less water in them. Near Ravensthorpe we were in big cereal growing area with fields bigger than those in East Anglia. The town has artworks on the silos and a very large roundabout for a small community. It was established in 1900 and reminded me of something a university friend said to some Americans who were studying in the UK: ‘I suppose you have to come here as you don’t have any history over there’. He obviously has not been to Australia where European history is even more recent and indigenous history often not easily accessible by others. Our road began to traverse some hills and we were now back in mining and road train country. As we descended into Esperance there was more water around with lakes, ponds and nature reserves. All we had time for before dark was a short walk along the esplanade where the old pier was in the background near our motel was the sculpture by Cindy Poole and Jason Woolridge: Whale Tail. Our mileage was 381 making the trip total 8,128.